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Project Spotlight: IL Imagines Chicago

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Above: IL Imagines Chicago team members pose with a sign created to support survivors of sexual violence.


Alliance staff member Krescene Beck, Organizational Director participated on the IL Imagines state team from 2006 to 2018. Tara Ahern, Project Director has participated on the Chicago team since 2012.

*Note: The IL Imagines Chicago team is still meeting and looking to secure funding to continue this important work. The Alliance Board of Directors identified healthy relationships & sexuality as a priority area for 2020 so you can expect to hear more on this topic in the coming weeks/months!


Illinois Imagines was a statewide project to improve services to women with disabilities who have been victims of sexual violence from 2006-2018. The project was directed by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois rape crisis centers, disability service agencies and self-advocates. It brought together several key agencies and individuals working in the field of disability and sexual assault. These organizations include, The Self-Advocacy Alliance, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council (IFVCC), Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL), etc. With the ultimate goal of systems change, the vision of Illinois Imagines is for all women with disabilities to be guaranteed an environment free from sexual violence, where they are empowered to speak and act for themselves.

Four core components were used by Illinois Imagines to effect change: collaborative teams, accessibility/responsiveness of rape crisis centers and disability providers, outreach to women with disabilities, and public policy standards. In addition to these core components, self-advocates (people with disabilities) were key to the collaboration’s success and were involved in all aspects of the initiative as members of the state planning committee, public policy committee, regional training team, resource development, and local collaborative teams. The work of Illinois Imagines has led to changes in the infrastructure of human services and the service delivery model, including changes in the sexual assault service standards, changes to state codes to improve access to services (rape kit, counseling, confidentiality of records), and the development of resources for families, guardians and service providers.

Illinois Imagines developed a provider toolkit which contains resources for strategic planning, creating safe and welcoming environments, staff training, policy development, as well as outreach and education for people with disabilities. Additionally, they have developed educational materials for parents and guardians, and an empowerment guide for self-advocates.


It is worth mentioning that:

The rates people with disabilities experience sexual violence is more than 3 times higher than people without disabilities. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2017)

People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities experience sexual violence more than 7 times higher than people without disabilities. (NPR Abused & Betrayed Series, Jan 2018)

80% of women and 30% of men with intellectual disabilities have been sexually assaulted.

50% of those women have been assaulted more than ten times and only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported. (Sobsey & Doe, 1991; Sorenson, 2000, Valenti-Hein and Schwartz, 1995)

Some risk factors are a lack of sex education, a culture of compliance, a person’s disability itself, lack of information about our rights and accessibility challenges.


It is clear that a tremendous amount of work still needs to be done. The Alliance would like to broaden our partnerships to include; families, service providers, private sector, parks, schools, healthcare, immigrant groups, cultural communities, LGBTQIA community, cross disability communities, etc. Lastly, with a stronger presence in our state capitol, we would like to participate in statewide advocacy work; legislation, enforcement and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to receive critical information about health sexuality, violence prevention, consent, boundaries and healthy relationships.

Above: Alliance staff (and IL Imagines Chicago team members) present on empowering survivors with disabilities at the Arc Convention.

Above: Painting a banner for IL Imagines Chicago with messages for survivors.

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